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Holy Forty Martyrs Church

The Holy Forty Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo is closely connected to some of the most important events in Bulgarian history.

0056 Holy Forty Martyrs Church
Local name: Свети Четиредесет Мъченици
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
GPS: 43.084492, 25.649937OCATION

There is no other church in the Bulgaria, which is so closely connected to the most important events in Bulgarian history than the Holy Forty Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo.

Following an important victory in battle with a local despot on 9 March 1230, Bulgarian tsar Ivan Asen II commanded that a recently built temple below his fortress be dedicated as The Holy Forty Martyrs Church.

This church would be dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, since the battle that they had just won took place on the day of the feast of Holy Forty Martyrs.

He also commanded that the church interior be completely covered with murals.

Holy Forty Martyrs Church was to be the royal church throughout the reign of the Assen Dynasty.

After the Ottomans took control of Bulgaria, the church was converted to a mosque. Then in 1853 the murals, the icons, and the altar were destroyed.

Only a very small percentage of the murals survived. However, considering how thoroughly the Ottomans trashed the building, it quite remarkable that they were able reconstruct of the art as they have.

Ring of Kaloyan

In 1972, a royal burial of a man, 1.9 m-tall, lavishly dressed in expensive warrior armor and decorated with complex embroidery with woven gold leaf, and pearls was unearthed.

Kaloyan Royal Seal

On his body was a massive (61.1-gram) gold ring bearing a royal seal, and the inscription Kaloyan prasten (КАЛОꙖНОВ ПРЪСТЕНЪ, “Kaloyan’s ring”).

After staying for years in the Museum of Veliko Tarnovo, Tsar Kaloyan, one-time ruler of Bulgaria, was reburied at the Holy Forty Martyrs Church, with honors.

Great effort was taken to restore the church to resemble its original medieval features.

Following the church’s reconstruction, it has been used as the burial place for the remains of Bulgarian emperors and nobility, among whom Kaloyan of Bulgaria.

The Forty Martyrs Church was also the location of then-Prime Minister of Bulgaria Stefan Stambolov’s lavish wedding to Polikseniya Kostaki Stanchova on 18 May 1888.

In this church, many centuries later on 22 September 1908, the Bulgarian Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire was read aloud for the first time, by Tsar Ferdinand.

Today, preserved murals as well as epigraphic monuments within the temple remain some of the most important artifacts in Bulgarian history.

Ethnographic Artifacts

Impressive are preserved murals in the temple, as well as epigraphic monuments. It is in the church “St. Forty martyrs” are preserved three of the most famous columns related to the Bulgarian historical past – the Aseneva, the Omurtag and the Rodosto columns.

Column inscription by Ivan Asen II
Column inscription by Ivan Asen II

The inscription of Tsar Ivan Assen is dedicated to the victorious battle at Klokotnitsa.

Column Inscription of Khan Omurtag
Column Inscription of Khan Omurtag

The second column tells of the construction of the royal palace from Khan Omurtag on the Danube. It ends with the famous words – “A man, even if he lives well, dies. And another is born. And let the person born later, seeing these writings, remember the one who did them.”

Column inscription of Khan Krum
Column inscription of Khan Krum

A third column tells of the capture of the Byzantine fortress Rodosto on the Sea of ​​Marmara by Khan Krum.

SizzleMap films created in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria are produced in collaboration with
TAM – Space for Art and Social Initiatives.

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